Jonathan McIntosh is best known as the producer of Feminist Frequency, the online video channel responsible for the controversial (but excellent!) Tropes vs. Women in Video Games series. As series host and creator Anita Sarkeesian moves on to her new project highlighting underappreciated women in history, McIntosh has continued in pop culture analysis on his new channel and series, The Pop Culture Detective Agency, which is actually attempting to constructively answer the question “what about the men?!” which pops up whenever feminist dialogue appears. His first video is about the cartoon series Steven Universe, and it does such a bang-up job showing emotional expression in its male title character.
“It’s something I’ve been interested in for a long time,” McIntosh says. “While I was working on the first season of Tropes vs. Women, it occurred to me that these tropes were partially, or even all the way, about men. Women as a reward? Reward for who?”
The first season of McIntosh’s series is expected to release about three videos a month for six months, one longform and a few smaller videos defining terms like "mansplaining." Already his work has been subject to online hate mobs, especially after his former partner Sarkeesian shared the first video on social media, but he’s hoping that the work can have a positive effect.
“I’m hoping that this show will find an audience who will find it useful,” says McIntosh. “There are a lot of young men who are not comfortable with the toxic stuff expected of them. I’m hoping another guy talking about this in an open way can help.”
Steven Universe is an excellent place to start the conversation. The show is widely lauded for its portrayals of its mostly female cast as well as queer relationships, but McIntosh highlights the way that male emotion and male affection are uniquely shown in the series. Characters openly weep for a range of reasons, and physical affections, even between presumed heterosexual men, are viewed as helpful and positive.
The fact that Steven can display sorrow over failing to live up to the old “a man must shoulder a burden in silence” trope, breaking down in tears when he can’t to his friend Connie, is a remarkably unique aspect to television in general and animated television in particular. McIntosh points out that this sort of emotional vulnerability is rare except in one case: the death of a loved one. He uses a clip from The Batman in which a young Bruce Wayne mourns his dead parents as an example.
“The idea is that only in times of extreme trauma can you display these emotions,” says McIntosh. “If you look in those scenes, there’s this brief period between shock and rage. The tears are the things that lead to revenge. You’re allowed a few tears, but only on the way to getting revenge.”
In an era when a toxic masculinity is definitely on the rise, McIntosh’s work is a welcome respite. It really wasn’t more than a hundred years ago that emotion in male characters of artistic works was a normal thing. Books from the 19th century are full of manly dudes crying, but somewhere along the way in the last century, we lost that in stories.
“There has been a backlash to the rise of women’s rights, and I think you can see a reflection in a reactionary media,” says McIntosh. “Serials became popular as women began to get rights. It was a retreat for men to wrestle buffalos or whatever. It was a minor way to separate themselves from women. “
McIntosh’s work continues to be high-quality, insightful and well worth the watch. You can find the first episode of his new work below!